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NBA Jam Will Always Be The Greatest Sports Video Game


This phrase was foreign to me until a few years ago. I stepped into Beercade, a coveted arcade bar in my hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. Near the midsection of the seating area, with a small crowd surrounding it, I heard the ecstatic exclamation come from an arcade cabinet. I went over to investigate.

I gazed on the marquee; the grainy graphics and vibrant-colored logo. A hardwood panel covering the control surface and a basic instruction guide.

NBA Jam transported me back to the 90s.

NBA Jam Video Game

I was born in 1994, one year after the original NBA Jam was released by Midway Games. I scrounge my memory, but it's safe to say I've lost any recollection of the over-the-top arcade game at its peak.

The no-gravity slam dunks, the goaltending, 2-D animation similar to Mortal Kombat, announcer Tim Kitzrow's iconic play-by-play — The appeal speaks for itself. I don't know about you, but I like my video games with a slice of absurdity. Making gameplay more realistic is boring. Spare me free throws and timeouts. Feed me the blue pill. Give me John Stockton dunking from the three-point line. Dose me in Shawn Kemp breaking backboards. Inject Reggie Miller shooting a combusted basketball into my veins. I'll take all of it.

I draw the line at Bill Laimbeer elbowing guys to the ground as the most realistic part of the game.

The video game hit home consoles such as the Super Nintendo (SNES), Sega Genesis, and Game Boy in its early days. A sequel, NBA Jam Tournament Edition, was released in 1994. Midway lost the naming rights to Acclaim Sports in 1996. NBA Hangtime, released the same year, was Midway's third installment. By then, the success of the original was difficult to replicate. Midway filed for bankruptcy in 2009. After a slew of Acclaim releases, Electronic Arts' sports division, EA Sports, claimed the name and released the most recent installment, NBA Jam: On Fire Edition, in 2011 on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360.

NBA Jam: On Fire Edition

Creator Mark Turmell figured it out. NBA Jam was one of the first sports games from a big-four league. It opened the gates for the coveted franchises we see today. He even added secret characters, including the developers themselves, as an extra wrinkle. That suspicion you had of the Chicago Bulls lacking the clutch gene? Turns out it's true. You would think the game's absence of Michael Jordan due to a licensing agreement would be enough. Turmell, a Detroit Pistons fan, tweaked their shooting ability in the last minutes of the game. Oh, to have that power.

Back in Omaha, I was infatuated by the multiplayer game. I grabbed the joystick.

"Puts up a brick."

Just how I drew it up.

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